postcard-coleporterReviewed by: RUSSELL GOELTENBODT

“Do you ever feel as though that you were born in the wrong era? Do you wish you were born in the 1920’s or 30’s when music was sophisticated and going to clubs to listen to music was an event?”  These are the questions that cabaret singer Joan Curto asked at the beginning of her engagement at Davenport’s Cabaret Club in Chicago’s Wicker Park. She continued by saying, “This would also be a time when ladies and gentleman would go to clubs, get dressed up in their finest, and listen to the music of Cole Porter, and George and Ira Gershwyn, and other great composers. This was a time when listening to this music was an extreme gift.”  Joan Curto turned back time and gave her audience that gift last Wednesday evening, by transporting them to that time by recreating the beautiful music of Cole Porter.

Joan, who is accompanied by the incredible musical styling of Beckie Menzie, with Jim Cox on bass, made this a beautiful musical experience.  During the show, Joan, who obviously did her research, told the interesting story of the life of Cole Porter with many antic dotes and quotes that were taken from letters he had written during his life.  Joan continued to tell that story through Cole Porter’s music. Some of the facts that I did not know was that Cole Porter did not have a hit until he was 37 years old.  Additionally, Joan further explained that Cole Porter composed over 800 songs, in which 500 of them were hits. This was a very impressive accomplishment for the short lifetime of his work.  Joan also quoted Cole Porter who once described his music as a cross between Eddie Cantor and the Duke of Windsor, “the high of the high brows combined with the low of the lowbrows”.

Not only did Joan sing the many Cole Porter favorites, she managed to sing many of Cole Porter’s songs that you don’t often hear. To me, this was a real treat!  The favorites included, “It’s Delightful”,”From This Moment On”, My Heart Belongs, to Daddy”, “Night and Day”; to name a few.   Joan also proceeded to sing some of the Cole Porter songs that we don’t often hear.  These included, “Just Like To Kick it Around”, “The Laziest Gal in Town”, and “Unlucky in Love”.  Two of my new Cole Porter favorites are, “The Leader of the Big Time Band” and “The Oyster”; which Joan sang with gusto and comedy. Joan also told the story of Cole Porter spending many months of his life in Paris, where she was fortunate to make the trip last year. Joan then proceeded to sing a beautiful arrangement of “I Love Paris”. This arrangement, along with many others was written by the musical genius of Beckie Menzie who is not only a wonderful arranger and music director; she is a talented cabaret artist as well.

Along with the stories and the music, Joan said she is proving how much of a musical nerd she is. Joan brought out some letters from Cole Porter along with some other artifacts that she collected on e-bay. One of which was a play bill from 1939 from the show “Leave it to Me”, which featured Sophie Tucker. Leave it to Me first appeared in Chicago at the Auditorium Theater. Most of the shows that Cole Porter wrote during the 1930’s were “small on part, big on song”, meaning that these shows were mostly musical with a very small plot line. Joan also pointed out that during that time, many of the theater stars, such as Sophie Tucker, would go out and perform a number of sets at clubs after their theater performance. Many of these performers would stay up until the wee hours of the morning. The work would be exhausting, with very little pay.  However, during that time, it seemed both rewarding to both the artists and the audience.

A few months ago, I had reviewed another cabaret show. During that review, I noted that performing in a cabaret show is very different from performing in a concert. There are some very basic, yet necessary requirements for cabaret.  The artist must create a story, and tell that story through the music they are singing. The story should be natural and portrayed as a natural conversation with the audience to bring them into the life of the story. Joan Curto proceeded to do this with “Cole Porter: From Major to Minor”, and she did it beautifully throughout her show.  Joan who is celebrating her 15th year performing at Davenports,  made the show flow naturally, making it a truly entertaining experience.  Joan brought the audience to a club during the 1930’s, transporting them to that time and place where music was entertaining, elegant and sophisticated. Therefore, I strongly recommend seeing this show. It is a wonderful and enjoyable evening of true talent and cabaret magic. Joan proves that she is a true cabaret professional. She is truly Delightful!

Joan Curto Sings Cole Porter: From Major to Minor runs until February 10th at Davenports Piano Bar, 1383 N. MIlwaukee  Ave, Chicago.  Performances are Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm. For reservations call 773.278.1830 or visit